Reprinted by permission of The News & Observer of Raleigh, North Carolina
January 24, 1998
The News & Observer
State panel won't tell resort to remove sandbags
By CRAIG WHITLOCK; STAFF WRITER
KILL DEVIL HILLS -- Despite some misgivings, the state Coastal Resources Commission decided Friday not to order the imperiled Shell Island Resort to tear down a wall of giant sandbags - the only thing protecting the $22 million oceanfront resort from the sea.
The commission had ordered an inquiry into the case in November after The News & Observer reported that the resort had paid for the temporary sea wall at least in part with a $1.5 million federal loan. When the Shell Island Homeowners Association had applied to the state for permission to build the wall a year ago, its attorneys had told the commission that no public money would be used.
Some commission members said they were considering whether that was reason enough to force Shell Island to tear down the controversial sea wall, which is supposed to remain standing for only two years or until the resort, in Wrightsville Beach, can find a permanent solution to its severe beach erosion problem.
But at its meeting Friday in the Dare County village of Kill Devil Hills, the commissioners decided to take no action, saying that legally there was little they could do.
In a report, the commission's staff said that state law does not expressly forbid the use of public money for a project like the wall of sandbags. The staff said that the resort's sea wall permit did not include conditions that would have prevented Shell Island from using financing such as its $1.5 million loan from the Small Business Administration.
As a result, commission members said they would probably have to let the sea wall stand at least until September 1999, when the permit expires.
"I think we made a deal that is turning out not to be as good a deal as we thought," said Courtney Hackney, a commission member and a coastal biologist at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. "We goofed. ... I think we're simply there for 18 more months. I don't think legally there's anything we can do to get them out sooner."
Pricey Taylor, a commission member from Beaufort, agreed. "Nothing can be achieved by revoking the permit at this point," she said. "That would just create hardship for everyone."
Shell Island is threatened by the sea because of a rapidly eroding inlet that has lapped to within a few feet of the nine-story building. When developers applied for permission to build the resort in the mid-1980s, the state warned them that they would not be allowed to build a sea wall.
After the meeting, Shell Island's attorneys said they had done nothing misleading by not disclosing the SBA loan, which was granted after Hurricane Fran damaged the resort in September 1996. They said they were referring to county or local funds when they promised that no public money would be used in the project.
Shell Island attorney Susan McDaniel expressed relief that the commission decided not to take any action, even though she said she didn't think it had the authority to revoke the sea wall permit anyway.
"I think they took the proper action," McDaniel said. "I don't think an investigation was needed in the first place."
While the commission allowed the wall to remain in place, it did not address the broader question of what will happen to Shell Island after the permit expires in September 1999.
The homeowners association wants to build a permanent sea wall, even though such structures are not permitted by North Carolina's strict coastal development laws. The association filed a lawsuit in New Hanover County this month asking the court to declare the state's rules unconstitutional.
Estimated Printed Pages: 2
Shell Island Resort
Copyright 1998 by The News & Observer Pub. Co.
Record Number: 1998023124
©1999, Alec M. Bodzin for the Science Junction, NC State University. All rights reserved.
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